Yesterday’s Herald’s News Review section included an edited version of a piece written by David Marr for the Quarterly Essay, about the gradual corruption of public debate and the stifling of free speech under John Howard. Here is one of the opening chapters:

Since 1996, Howard has cowed his critics, muffled the press, intimidated the ABC, gagged scientists, silenced non-government organisations, neutered Canberra’s mandarins, curtailed parliamentary scrutiny, censored the arts, banned books, criminalised protest and prosecuted whistleblowers.

At a lazy 4000 words, the edited version is just a fraction of what is in the QE, but unfortunately doesn’t contain any explicit detail as to the instances that Marr is alluding to. I presume the full version will, and I eagerly await the internet release, which should soon be freely available to anyone with university access, just like any other journal.

Still, I expect that the specific instances won’t include anything previously unknown, in fact Marr says exactly this.

We haven’t been hoodwinked. Each step along the way has been reported – perhaps not as thoroughly and passionately as it should have been, but we’re not dealing in dark secrets here. We’ve known what’s going on. If we cared, we didn’t care enough to stop it.

There’s also an entertaining debate between Marr and Andrew McIntyre, pundit, commentator, Research Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs, from Radio National’s Late Night Live programme last week (Mp3 available here) which Marr convincingly won¹. Unfortunately it’s rather short relative to the breadth of issues that Marr’s essay addresses.

However, one issue that was discussed briefly was that Aid/Watch, a charitable organisation set up to scrutinise foreign aid, have lost their status as a charity for the reason that they recently drew attention to Australia’s foreign aid figures being inflated by more than $1 billion, and made it clear that they would like this to change, thereby acting in a partisan manner. Contrast this with the Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank that does have charity status from the Tax Office, as conceded by McIntyre himself in this debate. In its ‘About’ page, the IPA claims that:

By the close study of Australian policy, we can recommend the best path for our politicians, policy makers and businesses to take.

Which sounds an awful lot to me as though the IPA seeks to influence public policy, the very reason for Aid/Watch’s loss of charity status.

Another reason this particular debate wasn’t quite long enough was that McIntyre kept saying outrageous claims as premises while on the way to a point, while never actually getting to the point itself. One such claim was that if you “google Howard is a fascist then you will [be directed to some ABC website]”. The net result is that McIntyre said absolutely nothing that related to the topic at hand while simultaneously denouncing Marr, (the presenter) Philip Adams, Kevin Rudd, Stuart Littlemore, the entire arts industry, Antonio Gramsci, Pat Byrne and the AEU, the entire Islamic world, the ABC and the supposed left in general.

~

¹(Inserting my tongue firmly in my cheek) I reckon it was fixed. Marr only won the debate because it was on the ABC, that leftist, communist, anarchic, chardonnay-swilling, latte-sipping, inner-urban, pinko, bleeding-heart, anthropogenic global warming fanatical, anti-American ABC, on a programme that McIntyre describes as “the tax-payers’ answer to [extremely influential right-wing shock-jock] Alan Jones”.

There. I said it so that no one else needs to point it out.

²I’ll concede that Howard isn’t solely responsible for this; Paul Keating more or less began the current trend towards censorship, but according to Marr, Howard does it better than anyone.